The Drover's Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson Movie Review
A gritty Australian western that frustratingly never entirely finds its footing, The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is nonetheless a moving piece of frontier drama.
Written by, directed by and starring Leah Purcell, The Drover’s Wife focuses on Molly, a bushwoman who is largely left to her own devices with her husband “away.” On the verge of going into labor, with several young children already in her stead, her life is further disrupted when an injured aboriginal fugitive arrives on her farm.
Even though I lived in Australia when I was little, I have no historical context for this particular story, though the film is an adaptation of Purcell’s stage play, which put a spin on the 1892 story of the same name by Henry Lawson. Historical or cultural awareness would undeniably contribute to the viewing experience, as there are nuanced elements of this new movie that appear to require some previous knowledge or understanding that I simply don’t have.
Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife is nonetheless an engaging and largely accessible drama-thriller that never sits still, the film thrusting multiple ingredients into a combustible pot that is rearing to explode. Powered by strong performances by Purcell, Rob Collins, and Sam Reid, the movie works more often than not, relying on the chemistry of the cast and the intriguing dynamics at play to push through.
Yet the movie never successfully builds upon its own momentum, drifting into side stories and occasionally lagging just when things should be becoming more urgent. Purcell has all the right ingredients, but The Drover’s Wife has the taste of missed potential. Furthermore, it never explodes in the way it promises, or needed to.
Recommended, but not a must see.
This film was reviewed as part of coverage of the SXSW 2021 Film Festival.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.